Spoiler alert, but at the end of the Time of the Doctor Matt Smith actually regenerates into Peter Capaldi. I know, they kept that one quiet.
It was a well acted, heart destroying scene that managed to draw on elements from The 11th Doctor’s entire run but never felt drawn out or overplayed in a way that David Tennant’s final moments were (controversial).
It got me thinking about The Doctor’s other regeneration scenes, since thanks to Day of the Doctor, we’ve now got ’em all. There have been some dodgy ones, and some pretty disappointing ones. As you may have guessed from the title though, these are what I reckon are his best ones.
Peter Davison to Colin Baker (Caves of Androzani)
Okay, so it may have heralded in the beginning of Doctor Who’s decline into not very goodness (through no fault of Colin Baker) but this is a strong, emotional scene that tops off one of classic Who’s best stories.
While it has it’s problems, such as Davison’s great death bed acting being somewhat overshadowed by Nicola Byrant’s cleavage (or is that a problem? Depends who you ask) or the kind of cheesy spectral return of his past companions (God, who does that these days?), Davison and Byrant still deliver an incredibly strong, quite unsettling scene.
It gets even better when you realise that The Doctor was actually holding off his regeneration for pretty much the entire story, just so he could get shit done. Say what you will about The 5th Doctor, but he was a stone cold badass.
William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton (The Tenth Planet)
Granted, The Doctor doesn’t bow out for the most heroic of reasons (old age) but the first regeneration of the series deserves a spot on this list because the ingenious idea of The Doctor being able to change his face has ensured that Doctor Who can still be going strong fifty years on.
It’s done remarkably well for the time too, with Hartnell glowing a milky white and seamlessly becoming Troughton. You seriously barely notice it happen. You’ve got to wonder what the hell viewers thought was going on at the time.
Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant (The Parting of the Ways)
The first regeneration of New Who must have been as much of a shock to younger viewers as The Tenth Planet was for everyone else.
Eccleston delivers a brilliant speech while Rose looks on, absolutely terrified. Here, regeneration is clearly quite sad, but still cause for optimism, as it should be since no one is actually dying.
And no longer does The Doctor konk out on the floor in a slightly feeble manner. For the first time, he throws his arms up and explodes with energy, which is much, much cooler (and also allows for Matt Smith to destroy an entire fleet of Daleks).
Paul McGann to John Hurt (Night of The Doctor)
YES. Just because we thought we’d never see the day, this regeneration gets a place on the list. What does this regeneration scene get done?
Well, it lets McGann showcase his fantastic range as The Doctor (rage, acceptance, flippancy), it gives us more time with PAUL MCGAN AS THE DOCTOR and perhaps most importantly of all, it makes his Big Finish audio adventures unarguably canon.
Paul McGann though guys, amiright?
Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker (Planet of the Spiders)
So even though the regeneration effect itself is a little rubbish, and the hovering monk man of exposition land always terrified me on a personal level, this scene has Lis Sladen and Jon Pertwee absolutely acting their hearts out (while The Brigadier watches on vaguely bored by the proceedings).
Fun fact; this is the first time the process is actually called Regeneration. There, we’ve all learnt something and I can’t think of anything else to say.
Well, a big shout out to Steven Moffat for turning me into a crippled emotional husk on Christmas day. As a longtime fan, I’ve always loved regeneration stories. I know the show is all about change (how else would it have made it to 50 years?) and I’m pretty much always ready to see a new Doctor take over and move things forward.
Matt Smith was The Doctor. Without a doubt, from the moment his head popped out of the TARDIS asking a young girl for an apple he has continued to absolutely own the role without faltering. Kind, funny, great dress sense, a pro at physical comedy (he could make walking through a door fascinating viewing) and above all, he had a great rapport with kids.
He was definitely the kids’ Doctor, and please don’t read into that as a dig or a downgrade, because kids are the hardest buggers to please. Capaldi is going to have a serious job winning the nippers over after Matt’s big brother act.
The episode itself tied up issues that have been plaguing me since the end of series 5. Seriously, I thought we’d never find out who blew up the TARDIS. And it turns out Gallifrey is knocking around behind the crack in the wall, back in 2010 I’d never had guessed that. Sadly, a lot of the exposition felt a little rushed and The Christmas element really did feel shoehorned in. Just be bold and ignore the fact it’s Christmas day. No one will care, because Doctor Who is on an that’s enough.
Still, the scenes with Clara’s family were sweet (and no sign of those bloody kids) and watching The Doctor pretend to be her boyfriend really made me realise how much unused potential the pair have.
There were, fittingly for 11’s last stand, a horde of aliens and nasties from all over. Some of them didn’t get much to do (like The Weeping Angels) and anytime The Daleks are involved it’s pretty much a given that they’re coming out on top. But it wasn’t about them, it was about Smith and all they needed to do was provide a fitting backdrop to his swansong.
The idea of The Doctor sticking around for centuries to protect a small town is nice. I’m glad the TARDIS was out of the equation for the first few centuries though, or I’d never believe in a million years that he would’ve stayed. 11 essentially got to enjoy some kind of retirement, even if he did have to fight off the odd wooden cyberman every now and then.
And then the end. Bloody hell. A rule that has been hampering Doctor Who is finally bloody gone. The Doctor can now regenerate another 13 times, so every Tabloid writer or smug so and so that comes up to me gleefully informing me that “Doctor Who has to end soon” can go into hibernation for at least another half century.
Matt Smith doesn’t go lying down, or in a self referential drawn out mess of goodbyes (cough, Tennant, cough). He explodes with energy, taking out as many Daleks with him as he can (and it’s a lot).
While it would have been nice for Clara to come running into the TARDIS, only to find a new man, it’s only fitting that Matt gets a proper goodybe. Young, as we remember him. What a doozy it is too, anyone that wasn’t a blubbering husk by the time the bow tie is on the floor, or by the time that cameo came about is a cold hearted fiend.
Then, without warning, or a glow of light, 11 is gone. It’s as if Matt sneezed himself into Capaldi. In thirty seconds I was already convinced by him, although conflicted. Because, to paraphrase the eleventh Doctor’s final words; I will always remember when The Doctor was Matt Smith.